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For months, movies such as Black Widow, Fast & Furious 9, Wonder Woman 1984, and Top Gun: Maverick have abandoned their planned premiere dates, but James Bond’s Thanksgiving release looked like it would hold fast. No movie brand is more global than Bond—the previous entry, Spectre, made 77 percent of its $879 million gross outside the U.S. and Canada—and international cinemas are in far better shape than American ones. On top of that, No Time to Die’s distributor, MGM, needs a huge hit after recently resuming major operations. The need for a guaranteed big opening was why No Time to Die was delayed in the first place: Originally intended for April 2020, its initial postponement made it the first movie domino to fall in the early days of the pandemic.
Until last week, the plan was for Bond to debut in November, offering a lifeline to cinemas that were drowning without new blockbusters. MGM even launched an official podcast ahead of the movie’s release (new episodes have now also been postponed). Then, just days ago, the studio suddenly reversed course, pushing the film to next Easter weekend and essentially ensuring that a major action blockbuster won’t hit theaters before Christmas at the earliest, when Wonder Woman 1984 is due out. While we don’t know exactly what prompted the turnaround, there was likely concern over Tenet’s depressed U.S. grosses (theaters in big markets such as New York and Los Angeles remain closed) and rising COVID-19 case numbers in Europe, particularly Britain, where leaders are mulling a second shutdown.
From MGM’s perspective, it’s a logical enough decision. Why roll the dice this fall, when American audiences are still reluctant to return to theaters, if the pandemic might ease up by April? But for cinemas, the Bond delay is catastrophic. Share prices for major chains dropped after the announcement, and the ratings agency S&P estimated that AMC (America’s biggest theater chain) has enough cash for just six months of operation, unless conditions materially improve. Though more than 80 percent of AMC’s theaters are open across America, they’re stuck playing warmed-over material to tiny audiences.
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Cineworld clearly thinks the current situation is impossible to sustain. Greidinger told Deadline that New York’s rigidity about reopening theaters was part of the problem—though chains have reopened in suburban Connecticut and New Jersey, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has shown little interest in lifting restrictions in his state. “The governor allows in-restaurant dining, bowling alleys, casinos, and others, but he will not allow cinemas,” Greidinger said. “Cinemas have been open all over the world and in the U.S. for over two months now, and there have been no COVID cases up to now, thankfully.” But he also admitted that the delay of No Time to Die had been “the last straw.”